Obama’s flip-flop on same sex marriage still driven by the campaign
posted at 3:22 pm on May 9, 2012 by Karl
Earlier today, I wrote that Team Obama had been AWOL on gay rights issues for campaign reasons. This afternoon, Pres. Obama officially “evolved” into a supporter of same-sex marriage during an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts:
“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told Roberts, in an interview to appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday. Excerpts of the interview will air tonight on ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer.”
The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.
Well, that’s semi-evolved, anyway. I suppose it remains to be seen how progressives will embrace states’ rights.
On Twitter (and elsewhere), a number of smart people have suggested that Obama benefitred from yet another distraction from the economy and the debt. Yet gay rights are a classic wedge issue that divides Obama’s prospective coalition, which would seem to be an unwelcome distraction for Democrats. Many have also suggested Obama found himself painted into a corner by comments from people like VP Joe Biden. Allahpundit provides a decent elaboration of this thinking:
Looks like his strategy now is simply to get it over with ASAP and then let people forget about it over the next six months. Some key constituencies, like young voters, will cheer. Others, like black voters, might not be thrilled but given their overwhelming support for O the risk that he’ll lose many votes because of this is minimal. Meanwhile, Romney’s unlikely to make it an issue since it’d throw him off his core economic message. (See, e.g., Haley Barbour insisting yesterday that the gay-marriage chatter lately is a Democratic distraction.)
All true enough, but I continue to think “The Decision” here is driven less by pressure from Sheriff Joe than by broader campaign considerations.
[Ruy] Teixeira, writing with John Halpin, argues in “The Path to 270: Demographics versus Economics in the 2012 Presidential Election,” that in order to be re-elected, President Obama must keep his losses among white college graduates to the 4-point margin of 2008 (47-51). Why? Otherwise he will not be able to survive a repetition of 2010, when white working-class voters supported Republican House candidates by a record-setting margin of 63-33.
Obama’s alternative path to victory, according to Teixeira and Halpin, would be to keep his losses among all white voters at the same level John Kerry did in 2004, when he lost them by 17 points, 58-41. This would be a step backwards for Obama, who lost among all whites in 2008 by only 12 points (55-43). Obama can afford to drop to Kerry’s white margins because, between 2008 and 2012, the pro-Democratic minority share of the electorate is expected to grow by two percentage points and the white share to decline by the same amount, reflecting the changing composition of the national electorate.
What yesterday’s elections may have told Team Obama is that the bitter clingers out there are bitter enough to give 41% of the Democrat vote in West Virginia to a convicted felon and to ease a ban on same-sex marriage into the North Carolina constitution. They may have concluded that their energies are better spent targeting more socially liberal white college graduates in the suburbs of northern Virginia, Philadeplphia, Denver, etc. than wasting time on trying to persuade Rust Belt Jacksonians to pull the lever for Barack Obama again while (as Allahpundit suggests) considering discontent among socially conservative African-Americans an acceptable risk now. The establishment’s mockery of Obama’s unevolved position may have suggested to Team Obama that painting Mitt Romney as a right-wing extremist is made more difficult when the president shares Romney’s position on SSM.
Obama’s hastily-arranged interview with Roberts suggests his campaign was prepared to let SSM drift off the news radar, until facts on the ground drove a public (but controlled) flip on the issue.